Just For Fun

Digesting Everything I Needed To Know

Robert Fulghum may have learned everything he needed to know in kindergarten, but I didn’t. Possibly because I never went to kindergarten.

But I did learn, not quite everything I needed to know, but a lot of useful and interesting stuff from Reader’s Digest.

In a household where both parents and all four daughters were avid readers, there was a lot of competition for the fat little magazine when it showed up in the mail every month. My memory is that it often had the bad timing to arrive on housecleaning days, which meant Mother would stash it somewhere until the work was done. There it sat on top of the fridge, out of sight but not out of mind, its unread jokes and stories a distracting temptation while we vacuumed and dusted. It was a strong incentive to be the first one to finish, of course—though, oddly enough, quite often the person who got to it first was Mother.

Reader’s Digest was a predictable mix of material that was mostly condensed and republished: a long excerpt from a nonfiction book, at least one story of a dramatic rescue or recovery, short pieces of insight and observation, and, of course, the jokes scattered throughout the pages like chocolate chips in the cookie.

I read the whole thing. It’s a bit surprising, all these years later, how many things I remember. (None of which I can think of right this minute, but I could call you later when they surface in my brain. Would two a.m. be convenient?)

I do recall the awfulness of one story about a girl who was about 11 or 12 (close to my own age at the time) and dying of leukemia. During her last days in the hospital, her parents told her if there was anything she wanted, they would do whatever they could to get it for her. She had just one wish: to see her brothers and sisters one last time. But hospitals then didn’t allow kids under the age of 14 to visit, and rules were rules. As I remember it, the parents didn’t even ask. The best they could do was sneak the oldest sister in for an illicit visit. The unkindness and unfairness of that sad story made me angry at the time. It still does.

As an adult, I continued to subscribe to Reader’s Digest for years. While its formula didn’t vary much, the content did evolve over the years as society changed. This was brought home to me once when I bought a box of books at a garage sale. In it was an aging little paperback of “Playboy Party Jokes.” I opened it, prepared to be suitably shocked. But the book was even older than it looked; I had already read most of the jokes in Reader’s Digest.

One of my high school teachers warned us not to use Reader’s Digest as a source for any assignments. Always go back to the full version of an article wherever it was originally published, he said, because “they chop off the ending to make room for all the jokes at the bottom of the pages.”

This was sound enough advice as far as it went, but even as a teenager I knew he was mistaken about the editing process. The Reader’s Digest editors may have made lots of cuts, but they used their red pencils more like scalpels than hatchets. It’s an example I try to follow as an editor myself. Possibly some of my current or former clients may disagree. Unfortunately, their comments had to be deleted due to lack of space.

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The Hit Parade

Aside from encouraging small children to risk life and limb by dashing out in front of huge tractors or nervous horses to scoop up handfuls of candy, I don’t quite see the point of parades.

In summer parades, spectators who forgot to bring sunscreen swelter on hot street corners to watch neat lines of musicians sweat in march tempo and members of civic organizations try to simultaneously smile and keep their balance on lurching floats. In winter parades, spectators who forgot to put on long underwear clutch insulated cups of hot cocoa while they shiver on cold street corners to watch riders on illuminated floats try to simultaneously keep their balance and move closer to the strings of Christmas lights in search of warmth.

Maybe I’m just jealous, since my own opportunities to participate in parades have been limited.

As a college freshman, I did ride on a float in the homecoming parade. Not as a queen candidate or any other kind of celebrity, but as one of several girls representing female students through the college’s history. Since it was October, I did appreciate being chosen to wear the 1890s dress instead of the 1920s flapper costume. I even learned a couple of things: First, a thick towel folded over a cord, which is then tied around one’s waist, makes an acceptable substitute for a bustle. Second, historical novels and movies notwithstanding, sitting down in a ladylike manner while wearing a bustle isn’t easy.

Since I played the piano instead of the flute or the tuba, I wasn’t in marching band in high school, either. This didn’t bother me, especially after seeing how miserably hot the musicians looked in their uniforms for the 4th of July parade. At least most years they were placed in line ahead of the horseback riders.

One year, however, the town of Gregory, SD, in order to schedule an acceptable carnival, held its 4th of July celebration two weeks early. The date happened to be my mother’s birthday. Of course, the family joked about the big celebration in her honor.

Maybe that’s what gave us the idea. My sisters and I borrowed our aunt’s car, enlisted her help to keep our mother from wondering too much about why we weren’t watching the parade with the family, and joined the procession. There were the marching bands, local political leaders, VFW, American Legion, businesses, civic organizations, brand-new tractors, beauty queens in convertibles, and the steam calliope. And us—four girls in a 1962 Nash Rambler station wagon with a homemade sign on each side reading “Happy Birthday, Mother.”

We got some laughs, some puzzled looks, a few shouted “Happy Birthdays,” and some disappointed looks from little kids who had hoped we would at least throw candy. Most important, though, we got pleased surprise from our mother. She hadn’t guessed the secret even though she wondered “where the girls are.”

Maybe the whole parade wasn’t for her, but our part of it was. She deserved it, too. Many years and celebrations later, it’s still the best parade I’ve never seen.

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How Dry I’m Not

It’s fast. It’s loud. It starts at the wave of a hand and stops in an instant. It goes by names like “The Xelerator.”

This is not a sports car, a motorized skateboard, a video game, or a stomach-dropping carnival ride. It’s the latest generation of an invention that for decades now has gladdened the hearts of janitors and annoyed many of the rest of us: the public restroom electric hand dryer.

The basic idea is simple enough: dry your hands with a gust of warm air instead of a paper towel. Neater, more convenient, and maybe even cheaper. The originals have been around long enough that everyone knows the routine: Push “on” button. Rub hands together under warm air. Turn hands to dry front and back. Become impatient with how long this is taking. Wipe hands on jeans. (Preferably your own; using someone else’s is poor restroom etiquette and can lead to unfortunate misunderstandings.) Leave restroom with the dryer still running and your hands still damp.

The whole process is so last century. Hence, enter the modern super-dryer: sleeker, faster, and presumably more effective. I wouldn’t know, personally, because I’ve never been able to allow one to finish drying my hands. The old ones were merely annoying. The new ones are terrifying.

First, there’s the noise. The second you get your hands close enough to turn the dryer on, it starts to scream like a jet engine revving up for takeoff. The normal instinctive reaction is to clap your hands over your ears. This stops the screaming—well, the machine’s screaming, at least—though it leaves you somewhat wet behind the ears. On the brighter side, wiping your hands on your hair does help to dry them.

If you are brave enough to leave your hands under the dryer in spite of the noise, you encounter something even more frightening. The gust of hurricane-force warm air actually makes your skin ripple. The skin on the back of your hand slides away from the blast as if it isn’t quite attached to your flesh. It looks like something out of a third-rate horror movie: “Restroom Zombies,” maybe, or “The Creature from the Black Loo.”

If you are eight years old, you may think this is the coolest thing since Grandma accidentally stuck her fingers together with superglue. If you are a few decades older than that, you may have already noticed places where your skin seems to be getting too loose for you. Having this peculiar phenomenon dramatically called to your attention by a screaming machine full of hot air is neither flattering nor appreciated.

I have to say, though, that the new hand dryers probably do conserve a great deal of energy. Oh, not because they are so efficiently designed, or so much faster, or shut off automatically. Because, after trying them once or twice, countless numbers of us will choose one of two alternative energy-saving solutions.

One: Wash hands. Dry them on jeans. Make a wide circle around hand dryer as you leave the restroom.

Two: Don’t wash hands at all. It’s a small sacrifice, after all, to save the planet. Not to mention your hearing and your serenity.

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Sleeping With the Animals

I’ve never been in the habit of sleeping with members of species other than my own. True, there have been a few exceptions: the one-night experience with the snoring cat from Boise, whose name I never did catch, and the slightly longer but still clearly temporary relationship with Lucy the watchful chocolate Lab.

Otherwise, the various critters who have shared my household over the years were roommate acquaintances rather than intimate bed-sharers. The six or seven cats who came and went did most of their sleeping during daylight, lolling around the house all day and then going out at night in search of adventure elsewhere. Various other critters lived in cages in the rooms of various children, with occasional lapses. The guinea pig (Or were there two? I don’t remember—they all look alike, you know) escaped to precarious freedom inside the bathroom wall. The salamander sought sanctuary beneath a stack of towels in the linen closet, where I found its mummified corpse a few years later when we moved. The four uncomfortably large rats eventually drove their owner out of his own room with their gnawing and their odor, and in consequence they were banished to the garden shed.

But this past weekend, I found myself in a situation that got out of hand. As so often happens, it started out innocently enough. I spent a day and one night with one family of grandkids while their parents were off on a much-deserved short vacation.

The children are four, two-approaching-three, and one. Besides their sweetness, intelligence, charm, and general grandchild exceptionality, one thing that makes them so amazing is the way they go to bed. Willingly. Without fussing. When I carried the baby into her room at bedtime, she lunged toward her crib as if to say, “Finally! This grandma, who seems nice enough but is a little slow, has finally figured out that I’m sleepy.”

Once settled in, these marvelous children sleep soundly like little angels until morning. This, theoretically, means a spending-the-night grandma who is a light sleeper can do the same.

But there is the little matter of the two dogs. During the day—in between naps—one of them patrols the back yard and chases invading birds and squirrels. The other prefers to hang out indoors, but—in between naps—she has a frequent need to go outside and come back in. Opening the door for her easily adds up to a couple of hundred steps for her human minions; if she isn’t getting a commission from the FitBit people, she should be.

Given these busy schedules, it’s not surprising that the dogs go to bed as willingly as the children. This would be great for a spending-the-night grandma, except that the dogs sleep in the master bedroom. True, they have their own beds on the floor. And on this particular night, they were very well-behaved. They didn’t squabble; they didn’t bark; they didn’t jump onto the bed; they didn’t once ask to be let out.

But they did snore. In different keys. They also snuffled and snorted and coughed. Every now and then one of them—dreaming, maybe—scrabbled against the foot of the bed with its toenails. Several times one or the other either had to scratch a mighty itch or had to get up to stretch and shake itself all over. In either case, the process involved a great deal of collar rattling, loud flapping of ears and jowls, and deep sighing. One of them also sneezed periodically. The first time, half-asleep as I was, I automatically said, “Gesundheit!” Then I realized how silly that was—duh; I know perfectly well the dogs don’t speak German.

It was a long night. By morning, I was thoroughly convinced of the wisdom of my lifetime choice to limit my sleeping partners to the human variety. At least if they snore, one can poke them lovingly in the ribs and gently suggest that they roll over.

This does not mean I’m prejudiced or xenophobic. I am not a bigot. I am not a speciesist. I have a great deal of tolerance, even affection, for many members of species other than my own. It doesn’t even bother me if my children sleep with them. Just as long as I don’t have to.

Categories: Family, Just For Fun, Wild Things | Leave a comment

A Car By Any Other Name

My car—the first vehicle I ever bought brand-new—turned one year old this month. Even though I’ve put 19,000 miles on it, tolerated toddler spills and cracker crumbs in the back seat, used it to haul furniture, and driven it in mud, I still think of it as my “new car.”

So I don’t understand why Honda keeps sending me emails about their latest models. Excuse me, marketing department? That thing in my garage is not a pair of jeans or a jar of face cream. I haven’t worn it out or used it up yet. I don’t need to buy a new car this year. In case you hadn’t noticed, I did that last year. At least give me time to figure out how to operate the hands-free phone calling and get comfortable with the backup camera.

But Honda’s latest email did catch my attention. Apparently the newest redesigned version of the Accord features an “aggressive new exterior.” Excuse me, marketing department? Did you not notice the name of this car? It’s the Accord. That means “agreement” or “harmony,” as in “peace accord.” This is the vehicle some people call the “Jesus car” because of the Bible verse where Jesus and the disciples “went with one accord.”

Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help wondering why a car named after peace and agreement needs an “aggressive” exterior. What’s next? The brand-new Oxymoron?

My own Honda is a CR-V. I presume CR-V stands for something; I have no idea what. Maybe if I actually read the owner’s manual I might find out. As far as I’m concerned it’s a Commonsense Reliable Vehicle, which certainly works for me.

Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe the people who market cars and I just don’t think along the same lines. Oh, I could easily come up with names for new car models. I’m just not sure the industry would welcome many of my bright ideas. Like these:

The Mammoth Jack pickup. Dependable, smart, and sturdy; it may not be stylish but will get you where you need to go and haul anything you need to take along. Features built-in social networking; you’ll get to know all your friends and neighbors better every time you help them move.

The Roller Skate sports car. It features miniscule cargo space, enough power to guarantee you that second look from the highway patrol, less legroom than airplane economy class, and a sightline level with other vehicles’ hubcaps. Warranty valid for driving on sunny days, May-Oct only. But all the neighbors watching you polish it in your driveway every week will know exactly how you got through your midlife crisis.

The Bike Helmet micro-mini car. Slightly more cargo capacity than a bicycle; not safe to drive on freeways in winds over 10 mph. But you’ll only need to fill the gas tank every other month, and you can practice three-point turnarounds inside your garage.

The St. Bernard SUV. Your best friend for winter driving; pushes through blizzards and deep snow drifts. Comes in all colors except white; the most popular is Warm Brandy.

The Nanny mini-van. Includes all basic safety features like child-proof door locks and window controls, plus starter system with built-in seatbelt-fastening verification. Backseat upholstery is stain-resistant and sound-suppressing. To insure conflict-free road trips, offers headphones with programmable age-appropriate storytelling, individual environmental controls, snack coolers and spill-wiping arms at each back seat, computerized tracking of who last got to sit by the window, automated GPS “how much farther?” answering feature, and optional but recommended anti-“he’s touching me!” barriers.

The White Elephant pseudo-military vehicle. This bulky, macho super-SUV can’t be easily parked in a conventional space (unless you have no scruples about squashing smaller cars), may not fit in your garage, and offers worse fuel economy than an RV. But everyone will certainly notice that you have it. And because it’s so expensive to buy and maintain, it’s the perfect way to impress the neighbors with your financial ineptitude.

Maybe there’s a reason why I don’t have a career in automotive marketing.

Still, I can think of one vehicle that almost everyone would want: The Transporter. Never mind what it looks like; it gets you there in an instant.

Categories: Just For Fun, Travel | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

What Kind of Woman Do They Think I Am?

The nice young man really didn’t mean to insult me. All I did was mention that I regularly go to a meeting on Saturday mornings. All he did was ask, “Is that your motorcycle club?”

It was obvious from his tone and his grin that he meant no offense whatsoever. He was clearly teasing, with no sarcasm intended or barbs attached. It was equally obvious that he couldn’t in his wildest dreams imagine me as an adventurous motorcycle mama.

He had no idea that his innocent words were such a blow to my self-esteem. I had not been so inadvertently insulted since the time years ago when a middle-aged man, trying to explain why some people drool over Corvettes in spite of the fact that they have no room to haul recycling or groceries, said, “You just don’t understand, Kathleen—a car like that is a chick magnet.”

What kind of person do these guys think I am?

I’m afraid they must see me as somebody who:

• Wouldn’t even think of going hiking without a water bottle, sunscreen, bug spray, and a broad-brimmed hat.
• Would much rather read about intrepid explorers than follow in their footsteps.
• Shudders at the very idea of ever getting even a teeny-tiny tattoo.
• Went on a roller coaster once in her life and still hasn’t recovered from the experience.
• Thinks bungee jumping is probably injurious to the brain cells, except that the brain cells of anyone crazy enough to try it are obviously damaged anyway.

Sigh. Well, yeah, I guess I have to admit it. I am that kind of person. Mostly.

But wait—there’s more. I’m also the kind of person who has a motorcycle endorsement on her driver’s license. Really.

Back in the early 1990’s I was persuaded by my husband to take a motorcycle safety class. He had the idea that we could putter around the back roads of the Black Hills on his two decidedly non-Harley motorcycles. I made it through the class, too. Here are the main things I learned:

• If you slow down too much going into a sedate little turn in the safety of a level parking lot, you’ll probably tip your motorcycle over.
• If you do tip your motorcycle over, and you’re a slender woman of slightly less than average height, you may not be strong enough to pick it back up.
• Acing the written test about motorcycle safety and operation doesn’t mean you’re qualified to actually drive one.

Thanks to taking that class, I was licensed by the state of South Dakota to drive a motorcycle. Thanks to everything I learned in that class, I have never ventured to drive any kind of a motorcycle on any public road. Both the state of South Dakota and I are better off because of this, even though only one of us is aware of the fact.

I never have bothered to remove the motorcycle endorsement from my license, though. You may suppose that’s because I still harbor fantasies that I might someday use it.

Nope. Never have; never will. Deep down inside, I never think of myself as the type of person who might put on something outrageous in black leather and fringe, hop on a Harley, and roar off into the sunset in search of raucous adventure.

But once in a while, it would be nice to think that other people might possibly think I could be.

Categories: Just For Fun, Odds and Ends, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

What Happens in Sturgis Stays There, Unless Somebody Tells Your Mother

The 75th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has probably set a new attendance record. Apparently no one knows for sure. Counting motorcycles may seem simple—just count the wheels and divide by two. But what with bikers coming and going at different times and spreading out all over the Black Hills, it isn’t that easy to come up with a crowd count. Especially since, as more and more older riders have switched to trikes, the math gets complicated.

Still, it seems appropriate that several other world records have been set during this year’s record-setting Rally. One was truly impressive: daredevil Doug Danger successfully jumped his Harley over 22 cars. Evel Knievel would have been proud—or at least envious. I just hope this doesn’t inspire any of my grandchildren to go and do likewise.

Another world record wasn’t set at the Rally, but it’s being celebrated here. The record-holder, Bobby Cleveland, has been here all week as part of a tour. People are welcome to rev the engine of his record-setting vehicle: a customized Snapper riding lawn mower that was clocked at 96.5 miles per hour on the Bonneville Salt Flats. And yes, it cuts grass, too.

In this spirit of competition, another group of Rally-goers set out to get into the Guinness Book of World Records, too. Their goal: To be the largest number of people ever photographed at once in their underwear.

Yes, apparently there is an existing world record in this category—2270 people. It happened in Salt Lake City. The organizer of the Rally attempt didn’t seem to know further details like who, when, and why. Too bad; inquiring minds would like to know. This inquiring mind, however, decided not to try to look it up. I didn’t want to deal with the kind of spam that would inevitably show up if I did an Internet search combining terms like “photo” and “world record” and “underwear.”

Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on your point of view, the Salt Lake City record still stands. The Rally group all seemed to have a good time, including the reporter who covered the uncovered event for the Rapid City Journal. But they barely mustered 182 people, not much of a thong—er, throng.

What caught my attention about the article was the description of one participant, a Wyoming woman in her early 40’s, who “asked not to be named for fear her mother would see it.”

I completely understand that sentiment. When you live in a sparsely-populated state like South Dakota or Wyoming, no matter where you go you’re likely to run into someone who knows your mother. Or your grandmother. Or your second grade teacher. Which means, if you’re doing something a little odd, like, oh, posing in your underwear with a bunch of other giggling bikers, someone is potentially going to tell your mother all about it. It’s a sort of pre-Internet version of Facebook, just, thankfully, without the pictures.

But in this case, there are pictures, right there in respectable newspapers for anyone to see. If I were the woman from Wyoming, I’d hope my mother wasn’t checking out Sturgis Rally photos with a magnifying glass.

Of course, if she did indulge in that kind of voyeuristic snooping, she probably wouldn’t admit it. She’d be too afraid that somebody would tell her daughter.

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Cookie’s Chuckwagon Blues

This is not exactly a sad country song, but it probably qualifies as a cowboy’s lament. With thanks (or apologies, whichever is more appropriate) to Nancy, who started it.

 

Cookie’s Chuckwagon Blues

With my chuckwagon and my old Dutch ovens,
I’ve cooked a lot of years out on the range.
But I don’t know about these modern cowboys;
Their ideas of grub is passing strange.

Tex won’t eat no more of my hot biscuits
Because his diet now is gluten-free.
He has a rice cake with his beans and bacon.
Cowboys sure ain’t like they used to be.

Slim is munching carrot sticks and celery.
“I got too fat,” he tells me with a sigh.
“Why, I can’t even see my own belt buckle,
Until I can, it’s no more apple pie.”

High cholesterol is Shorty’s problem,
So now he don’t eat butter, eggs, or lard.
He says, “Trans fat is gonna kill ya, Cookie.
Better buy some olive oil, old pard.”

“More beans,” says Joe, as he comes back for seconds,
And it reminds me of the good old days,
Until he adds, “I need to eat more fiber.”
Whatever happened to old cowboy ways?

I miss the days when me and this old wagon
Served cowboy grub as good as grub could git.
But the day some cowpoke asks for tofu burger,
That’s the day I tell the boss, “I quit!”

Categories: Food and Drink, Just For Fun | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Pepperoni in the Rain

If you’re having a tough day, there’s nothing like listening to sad country music to make you feel better. All your real-life troubles take on a new perspective after 15 or 10 minutes of listening to variations of, “You’re gone, and I’ll never get over it, and I’ve been here in the bar drowning my sorrows for 13 years now, but I still can’t understand why you left me.”

Then there are the times when real life just begs to be a sad country song. The other night, for example, I got a phone call from a family member while she was “delivering pizzas in the rain.”

With a line like that to start with, the rest of the song practically writes itself:

Since you left with all our money
All my luck went down the drain.
Now I’m out in my old pickup
Delivering pizzas in the rain.

My only hope is that one evening
When that phone begins to ring,
I will hear you ask me sweetly
For “a large with everything.”

With my heart as extra topping,
I will rush it to your door.
And the only tip I’ll ask for
Is to see your face once more.

Now, that’s extra cheese.

I don’t know about you, but I feel better already. Except for a slight craving for Canadian bacon and black olives.

Categories: Food and Drink, Just For Fun | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Words to Live By

“Favorite Quotation.” This was one of the blanks to fill in on a bio form I had to submit recently for a presentation I’m giving in a few weeks. I assumed they wanted something uplifting and meaningful, a shining little nugget of pithy advice or witty inspiration that is a touchstone in my life.

And I couldn’t think of a thing. It probably didn’t help that the program chairman needed my response by 5:00 p.m., that I’ve read and edited so many self-help books that their wise adages tend to blur together, and that my favorite poet is Ogden Nash. He certainly is quotable—here’s one of his poems:

Reflexions on Ice-Breaking
Candy
is dandy
But liquor
is quicker

However, the inspirational value of lines like this might not be fully appreciated by someone whose goal is to help a presenter seem capable and authoritative.

I finally found some adequate saying or other, sent it in, and promptly forgot about it. The next day, of course, I remembered several delightful, clever, and apt quotations that I could have used instead.

While I was on the subject, though, I started pondering some of the sayings that do influence my life. If I had been more concerned about truth-telling than pseudo-inspiration in my response, I might have cited one of the phrases (source: various semi-anonymous members of my family) that I actually use regularly. Like one of these:

“Cowgirl up.” Its better-known counterpart, “cowboy up,” means shut up, get on with it, do what needs to be done and don’t complain. “Cowgirl up” means pretty much the same thing, except you toss in a little humor while you’re at it. And wear your best red boots, except in situations where Carhartts are more appropriate.

“I just want this to be oooover!” This loud and deeply sincere bit of dramatic criticism from the back of an elementary school gym was one of the highlights of my son-in-law’s time as part of a touring children’s theatre program. My partner and I have appropriated it and find it useful in all sorts of situations. It can be muttered out of the side of one’s mouth during long-winded speeches or tedious meetings. It can be thought to oneself during dental appointments or invasive medical procedures. Said aloud with a dramatic sigh or eye-roll, it suits a variety of occasions from uphill hikes to long car trips to waiting on hold for customer service. Sometimes, the person who wasn’t quick enough to say it first gets to come back with the response my son-in-law gave from the stage: “You and me both, kid!”

Okay, I might as well admit it. When it comes to inspirational words, I’ll take a perspective-restoring chuckle over an uplifting adage any day. It’s sometimes more clever, often more useful, and always easier to remember.

Categories: Just For Fun, Living Consciously | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

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